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Thursday, 24 September 2020

Coronavirus: Escaping the labour bottleneck in Egypt

A new initiative aims to preserve the country’s private-sector workforce amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis

Safeya Mounir , Thursday 21 May 2020
Escaping the labour bottleneck
Private sector workers are offered opportunities to keep their jobs during the Covid-19 crisis
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The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development has launched a new public campaign called “Egypt will Pass” to retain the country’s private-sector workforce despite the current labour bottleneck and protect it against the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The campaign was initiated in cooperation with the Terous Misr Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on development and the alleviation of poverty. Many businessmen, corporate heads, and the owners of small and medium-sized companies are participating in the campaign.

It is a platform where businessmen can exchange the solutions they have found to maintain their workforce during the crisis, including digitisation and resource management, the Planning Ministry stated.

Companies can benefit by minimising the risks caused by the pandemic through financial inclusion, electronic services, and teleworking. By transforming businesses online, companies can keep employees and their families safe and support the national economy, the ministry added.

Joining the campaign are more than 70 corporates and businesspersons, including Ahmed Heikal, chair of Al-Qalaa Holding, who announced his company was seeking to set up four new projects that will generate 2,000 jobs, Ahmed Al-Sewidi, chair of Al-Sewidi Electric, Ahmed Abu Hashima, CEO of Egyptian Steel, Amr Suleiman, chair of Mountain View Property, and Mahmoud Khattab, chair of B Tech, who said his company would provide 100 temporary jobs for six months.

Executive Director of Terous Hend Abdel-Maguid said the foundation had targeted supporting groups harmed by the coronavirus crisis and not on the agenda of other initiatives launched to support affected people. The majority of campaigns target seasonal workers in Upper Egypt, among those most affected by the pandemic, she said.

She said that the foundation had found that many companies were downsizing during the pandemic, laying off workers appointed over the past two years. These workers often belonged to the lower middle-income class, and they may have a limited knowledge of foreign languages and simple Internet knowledge.

The foundation has published a study, “The Labour Market Crisis”, which points to unemployment rates among the educated, youth, and other people in urban areas. Normally, youth in urban centres would have better job opportunities than their counterparts in rural areas, she said, but both groups were affected in the current crisis.

The study notes the low quality of education, the majority provided by the government, for the lack of connection between the curriculum and the jobs available, resulting in an inflated informal labour sector.

Abdel-Maguid said Terous was concerned with helping these workforce groups, particularly because they often did not meet the criteria for aid provided by charity organisations to unemployed beneficiaries.

Terous has set up an online application where applicants can give information about their situation and the loss of their jobs. More than 30,000 applicants had thus far contacted Terous, Abdel-Meguid said.

The foundation had found that the most affected groups by the current crisis were workers in hotels, security, and real estate.

After evaluating the workers’ skills, Terous started contacting businesses that had signed up to the “Egypt will Pass” campaign to find jobs for the workers whose salaries would be paid from budgets allocated to the corporate social responsibility funds of the participating companies.

Terous aims to provide salaries ranging between LE2,500 and LE3,000 a month for jobs such as online sales, call centre services, and helping in surveys of client satisfaction. Some companies are offering training courses online for those employed through the initiative.

However, Heba Al-Leithi, an advisor at the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) and the author of several studies on incomes and poverty in Egypt, said initiatives to halt worker layoffs were only painkillers if the coronavirus crisis persisted.

The private sector in general should pay its taxes and provide its workforce with adequate salaries and social welfare both during and not during the current crisis, Al-Leithi added.

Life under the coronavirus would result in more people losing their jobs and an increase in the number of the poor, she said. Seasonal and daily workers were losing their jobs, but other sectors were also being damaged, such as tourism, since many companies and hotels had shut down, she added.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Escaping the labour bottleneck

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